Red Skelton had a full life – one that was full of twists and turns – but he was a great American and had a special way of making people laugh. He is quoted as having said, “”I just want to be known as a clown, because to me that’s the height of my profession. It means you can do everything—sing, dance and above all, make people laugh.” He certainly made people laugh!
Red Skelton was born in Vincennes, Indiana in July of 1913. His father passed away before he was born, leaving his mother a single mom of 4 children. Red started selling newspapers at age 7 in an effort to help his family. Selling newspapers one day, he met Ed Wynn, a famous comedian. When Mr. Wynn invited him to the show, it was the beginning of something very big for Red – it started his love of show business and making people laugh. By age 14, he left school and was already considered a veteran entertainer having performed in various shows and vaudeville acts. He went on to perform in film, radio, and television. He was also a very gifted musician, composing 8,000 songs and 64 symphonies in his lifetime.
He met and married his first wife, Edna Marie Stilwell, in 1931. Edna helped Red study and obtain his high school equivalency diploma because he had left school so early. She stepped in and helped to manage his early career and after their divorce in 1943, she continued to advise him on his career. Red was drafted into the Army in 1944 and while on furlough for a medical issue with his throat in 1945, he married his second wife, Georgia Davis. He returned to the Army performing in the entertainment corps doing up to a dozen shows a day; the exhaustion got to him and he suffered a nervous breakdown. He was discharged from the Army in September of 1945.
Red and Georgia had two children, Richard Jr. and Valentina. Richard Jr. was diagnosed with Leukemia and passed away in 1958. This devastated Red and Georgia both. In 1971, the couple divorced. In 1976, on the 18-year anniversary of their son’s death, Georgia took her own life. Red had already remarried by 1973; his new wife, Lothian Toland, was several years younger than him. Sadly, Red passed away at the age of 84 on September 17th, 1997. Red and Lothian were married 25 years at the time of his passing.
Red is most notably remembered by some for his recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. He noted that it was explained to him by a former teacher and it resonated with Red. Americans should take note of Red’s Pledge of Allegiance – we could all learn something:
I — Me; an individual; a committee of one.
Pledge — Dedicate all of my worldly good to give without self-pity.
Allegiance — My love and my devotion.
To the Flag — Our standard. “Old Glory”; a symbol of courage. And wherever she waves, there is respect, because your loyalty has given her a dignity that shouts “Freedom is everybody’s job.”
of the United — That means we have all come together.
States — Individual communities that have united into 48 great states; 48 individual communities with pride and dignity and purpose; all divided by imaginary boundaries, yet united to a common cause, and that’s love of country, of America.
And to the Republic — A Republic: a sovereign state in which power is invested into the representatives chosen by the people to govern; and the government is the people; and it’s from the people to the leaders, not from the leaders to the people.
For which it stands
One Nation — Meaning “so blessed by God.”
Indivisible — Incapable of being divided.
With Liberty — Which is freedom; the right of power for one to live his own life without fears, threats, or any sort of retaliation.
And Justice — The principle and qualities of dealing fairly with others.
For All — For All. That means, boys and girls, it’s as much your country as it is mine.
There is a museum dedicated to Red in his hometown of Vincennes, Indiana. His wife remains dedicated to sharing his legacy with others. Red was one of the greatest comedians, entertainers, and musicians of the 20th century. Red Skelton was a great man – he loved, he laughed, he made others laugh. Red left us with a legacy of laughter and love for others. I’ll leave you now with a few of my favorite Red Skelton quotes:
“God’s children and their happiness are my reasons for being.”
“Our principles are the springs of our actions. Our actions, the springs of our happiness or misery. Too much care, therefore, cannot be taken in forming our principles.”
“If by chance some day you’re not feeling well and you should remember some silly thing I’ve said or done and it brings back a smile to your face or a chuckle to your heart, then my purpose as your clown has been fulfilled.”
“Live by this credo: have a little laugh at life and look around you for happiness instead of sadness. Laughter has always brought me out of unhappy situations.”
“No matter what your heartache may be, laughing helps you forget it for a few seconds.”
– And he certainly helped us to laugh.